In 2014, UNRA awarded the project of expanding the Kampala Northern Bypass Highway into an all through dual carriage road to a Portuguese Company, Mota Engil, beating five other bidders.
For now, we are not interested in the history of how the current contractor won the tender. We are concerned about the delay of the project. The Shs200 billion project, which commenced in November 2014, was supposed to be completed within two years.
The project is terribly behind schedule and yet by estimation, less that 20 per cent of the work has been completed so far. The contractor is taking his time in total disregard of the inconvenience motorists suffer because of partial closure of the road.
There has been an increase in traffic jam in the entire city since the project started. This is because the Northern Bypass serves as a major link between the western and northern parts of the city. The contractor should have taken note of this by increasing their speed to deliver the project on time.
We have noted that the contractor has less equipment and personnel on site. Construction of urban roads by nature cannot take the same pace as rural highways because the latter have light traffic.
Motorists cannot afford the luxury of a road project that takes forever to complete. Construction of urban roads, especially in critical areas, calls for non-conventional approach, including working overtime and during odd hours.
A road project in the city that takes eternity to complete is an inconvenience to the users and becomes costly in terms of actual resources directly spent on it as well as other indirect costs such as time wastage and traffic inconvenience.
It was technically prudent for the constructor to start with the light work that is not technically engaging which was the road base pavement structure. What is more worrisome, however, is that if the simpler work of the base has taken the contractor ages to complete, how much more time will they require to accomplish the greater task ahead which is installing bridges?
Flyover bridges, according to the project design, are the most technically challenging aspects of this project. The current five roundabouts are supposed to be redesigned into traffic friendly flyovers that will allow seamless interchanges at all the five points without any holdups.
Once complete, they will look almost similar to Bwaise interchange completed under phase one. In spite of the magnitude of effort expected on these flyovers, the contractor has not started any work on any of the five flyovers!
If the current pace of the contract implementation is maintained, the project may not be delivered on time, let alone the one year extension already given to the contractor.
What is more worrying is that the current traffic interruption is nothing compared to what the city will experience when the contractor finally embarks on the actual flyover/bridge works. There will be severe traffic interruption and diversion to neighbouring roads which are already inadequate and congested. We therefore recommend that:
1. In order to expedite the speed of construction, some work should be sub-contracted to other contractors to combine efforts and for technical support and backup.
2. Ministry of Works should call the contractor to order. They should revise the contract terms and take keen interest in the project hence after.
3. The project consultant/supervisor together with UNRA should within allowable limits press the contractor to increase on the speed without necessarily compromising the quality of works.
4. The contractor needs to mobilise more equipment and personnel to match the work magnitude.
5. Any extra costs arising out of the project delay must be borne by the contractor.
6. UNRA must keep the public updated with the latest information about the progress of the project for transparency and accountability purposes.
Unless these measures are ensured, the same scenario is likely to be repeated when, under the first phase, the project was delayed for more than five years. The first phase of the road had been flagged off in 2003. It was opened to motorists in 2009 even when it was not fully complete due to public outcry.
The delay cost the taxpayer an additional Shs13 billion even when the original project cost had been deemed exorbitant for a project of that nature. Indeed the road project was at the time regarded to be one of the most expensive in East Africa in terms of unit cost.
The client (UNRA) ought to have learnt from this to avoid repeating similar mistakes under this phase. This matter should be handled with the urgency it deserves.
The writer is the executive director Uganda Road Sector Support Initiative